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The Lady of La Garaye. Norton, Caroline Sheridan, 1808–1877.
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page: 113

THE LADY OF LA GARAYE.

PART IV.

  • SILENT old gateway! whose two columns stand
  • Like simple monuments on either hand;
  • No trellised iron‐work, with pleasant view
  • Of trim‐set flowery gardens shining through;
  • No bolts to bar unasked intruders out;
  • No well‐oiled hinge whose sound, like one low note
  • page: 114
  • Of music, tells the listening hearts that yearn,
  • Expectant of dear footsteps, where to turn;
  • No ponderous bell whose loud vociferous tone
  • Into the rose‐decked lodge hath echoing gone,
  • Bringing the porter forth with brief delay,
  • To spread those iron wings that check the way;
  • Nothing but ivy‐leaves, and crumbling stone;
  • Silent old gateway,—even thy life is gone!
  • But ere those columns, lost in ivvied shade,
  • Black on the midnight sky their forms portrayed;
  • And ere thy gate, by damp weeds overtopped,
  • Swayed from its rusty fastenings and then dropped,—
  • When it stood portal to a living home,
  • And saw the living faces go and come,
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  • What various minds, and in what various moods,
  • Crossed the fair paths of these sweet solitudes!
  • Old gateway, thou hast witnessed times of mirth,
  • When light the hunter’s gallop beat the earth;
  • When thy quick wakened echo could but know
  • Laughter and happy voices, and the flow
  • Of jocund spirits, when the pleasant sight
  • Of broidered dresses (careless youth’s delight,)
  • Trooped by at sunny morn, and back at falling night.
  • And thou hast witnessed triumph,—when the Bride
  • Passed through,—the stately Bridegroom at her side;
  • The village maidens scattering many a flower,
  • Bright as the bloom of living beauty’s dower,
  • With cheers and shouts that bid the soft tears rise
  • page: 116
  • Of joy exultant, in her downcast eyes.
  • And thou hadst gloom, when,—fallen from beauty’s state,—
  • Her mournful litter rustled through the gate,
  • And the wind waved its branches as she past,—
  • And the dishevelled curls around her cast,
  • Rose on that breeze and kissed, before they fell,
  • The iron scroll‐work with a wild farewell!
  • And thou hast heard sad dirges chanted low,
  • And sobbings loud from those who saw with woe
  • The feet borne forward by a funeral train,
  • Which homeward never might return again,
  • Nor in the silence of the frozen nights
  • Reclaim that dwelling and its lost delights;
  • But lowly lie, however wild love’s yearning,
  • The dust that clothed them, unto dust returning.
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  • Through thee, how often hath been borne away
  • Man’s share of dual life—the senseless clay!
  • Through thee how oft hath hastened, glad and bold,
  • God’s share—the eager spirit in that mould;
  • But neither life nor death hath left a trace
  • On the strange silence of that vacant place.
  • Not vacant in the day of which I write!
  • Then rose thy pillared columns fair and white;
  • Then floated out the odorous pleasant scent
  • Of cultured shrubs and flowers together blent,
  • And o’er the trim‐kept gravel’s tawny hue
  • Warm fell the shadows and the brightness too.
  • Count Claud is at the gate, but not alone:
  • Who is his friend?
  • They pass, and both are gone.
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  • Gone, by the bright warm path, to those sad halls
  • Where now his slackened step in sadness falls;
  • Sadness of every day and all day long,
  • Spite of the summer glow and wild bird’s song.
  • Who is that slow‐paced Priest to whom he bows
  • Courteous precedence, as he sighing shows
  • The oriel window where his Gertrude dwells,
  • And all her mournful story briefly tells?
  • Who is that friend whose hand with gentle clasp
  • Answers his own young agonizing grasp,
  • And looks upon his burst of passionate tears
  • With calmer grieving of maturer years?
  • Oh! well round that friend’s footsteps might be breathed
  • The blessing which the Italian poet wreathed
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  • Into a garland gay of graceful words,
  • As full of music as a lute’s low chords;
  • “Blessed be the year, the time, the day, the hour,”
  • When He passed through those gates, whose gentle power
  • Lifted with ministrant zeal the leaden grief,
  • Probed the soul’s festering wounds and brought relief,
  • And taught the sore vexed spirits where to find
  • Balm that could heal, and thoughts that cheered the mind.
  • Prior of Benedictines, did thy prayers
  • Bring down a blessing on them unawares,
  • While yet their faces were to thee unknown,
  • And thou wert kneeling in thy cell alone,
  • Where thy meek litanies went up to Heaven,
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  • That ALL who suffered might have comfort given,
  • And thy heart yearned for all thy fellow‐men,
  • Smitten with sorrows far beyond thy ken?
  • He sits by Gertrude’s couch, and patient listens
  • To her wild grieving voice;—his dark eye glistens
  • With tearful sympathy for that young wife,
  • Telling the torture of her broken life;
  • And when he answers her she seems to know
  • The peace of resting by a river’s flow.
  • Tender his words, and eloquently wise;
  • Mild the pure fervour of his watchful eyes;
  • Meek with serenity of constant prayer
  • The luminous forehead, high and broad and bare;
  • The thin mouth, though not passionless, yet still;
  • With a sweet calm that speaks an angel’s will,
  • Resolving service to his God’s behest,
  • And ever musing how to serve Him best.
  • page: 121
  • Not old, nor young; with manhood’s gentlest grace;
  • Pale to transparency the pensive face,
  • Pale not with sickness, but with studious thought,
  • The body tasked, the fine mind overwrought;
  • With something faint and fragile in the whole,
  • As though ’twere but a lamp to hold a soul.
  • Such was the friend who came to La Garaye,
  • And Claud and Gertrude lived to bless the day!
  • There is a love that hath not lover’s wooing,
  • Love’s wild caprices, nor love’s hot pursuing;
  • But yet a clinging and persistent love,
  • Tenderly binding, most unapt to rove;
  • As full of fervent and adoring dreams,
  • As the more gross and earthlier passion seems,
  • But far more single‐hearted; from its birth,
  • With humblest notions of unequal worth!
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  • Guided and guidable; with thankful trust;
  • Timid, lest all complaint should be unjust;
  • Circling,—a lesser orb,—around its star
  • With tributary love, that dare not war.
  • Such is the love which aged men inspire;
  • Priests, whose pure hearts are full of sacred fire;
  • And friends of dear friends dead,—whom trembling we admire.
  • A touch of mystery lights the rising morn
  • Of love for those who lived ere we were born;
  • Whose eyes the eyes of ancestors have seen;
  • Whose voice hath answered voices that have been;
  • Whose words show wisdom gleaned in days gone by,
  • As glory flushes from a sunset sky.
  • Our judgment leans upon them, feeling weak;
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  • Our hearts lift yearning towards them as they speak,
  • And silently we listen, lest we lose
  • Some teaching truth, and benefits refuse.
  • With such a love did Gertrude learn to greet
  • The gentle Prior; whose slow‐pacing feet
  • Each day of her sad life made welcome sound
  • Across the bright path of her garden ground.
  • And ere the golden summer past away,
  • And leaves were yellowing with a pale decay;
  • Ere, drenched by sweeping storms of autumn rain,
  • In turbulent billows lay the beaten grain;
  • Ere Breton orchards, ripening, turned to red
  • All the green freshness which the spring‐time shed,
  • Mocking the glory which the sunset fills
  • With stripes of crimson o’er the painted hills,—
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  • Her thoughts submitted to his thoughts’ control,
  • As ’twere an elder brother of her soul.
  • Well she remembered how that soul was stirred,
  • By the rebuking of his gentle word,
  • When in her faltering tones complaint was given,
  • “What had I done; to earn such fate from Heaven?”
  • “Oh, Lady! here thou liest, with all that wealth
  • Or love can do to cheer thee back to health;
  • With books that woo the fancies of thy brain,
  • To happier thoughts than brooding over pain;
  • With light, with flowers, with freshness, and with food,
  • Dainty and chosen, fit for sickly mood:
  • With easy couches for thy languid frame,
  • Bringing real rest, and not the empty name;
  • page: 125
  • And silent nights, and soothed and comforted days;
  • And Nature’s beauty spread before thy gaze:—
  • “What have the Poor done, who instead of these
  • Suffer in foulest rags each dire disease,
  • Creep on the earth, and lean against the stones,
  • When some disjointing torture racks their bones;
  • And groan and grope throughout the wearying night,
  • Denied the rich man’s easy luxury,—light?
  • What has the Babe done,—who, with tender eyes,
  • Blinks at the world a little while, and dies;
  • Having first stretched, in wild convulsive leaps,
  • His fragile limbs, which ceaseless suffering keeps
  • In ceaseless motion, till the hour when death
  • Clenches his little heart, and stops his breath?
  • What has the Idiot done, whose half‐formed soul
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  • Scarce knows the seasons as they onward roll;
  • Who flees with gibbering cries, and bleeding feet,
  • From idle boys who pelt him in the street!
  • What have the fair girls done, whose early bloom
  • Wasting like flowers that pierce some creviced tomb,
  • Plants that have only known a settled shade,
  • Lives that for others’ uses have been made,—
  • Toil on from morn to night, from night to morn,
  • For those chance pets of Fate, the wealthy born;
  • Bound not to murmur, and bound not to sin,
  • However bitter be the bread they win?
  • What hath the Slandered done, who vainly strives
  • To set his life among untarnished lives?
  • Whose bitter cry for justice only fills
  • The myriad echoes lost among life’s hills;
  • Who hears for evermore the self‐same lie
  • Clank clog‐like at his heel when he would try
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  • To climb above the loathly creeping things
  • Whose venom poisons, and whose fury stings,
  • And so slides back; for ever doomed to hear
  • The old witch, Malice, hiss with serpent leer
  • The old hard falsehood to the old bad end,
  • Helped, it may be, by some traducing friend,
  • Or one rocked with him on one mother’s breast,—
  • Learned in the art of where to smite him best.
  • “What we must suffer, proves not what was done:
  • So taught the God of Heaven’s anointed Son,
  • Touching the blind man’s eyes amid a crowd
  • Of ignorant seething hearts who cried aloud
  • The blind, or else his parents, had offended;
  • That was Man’s preaching; God that preaching mended.
  • But whatsoe’er we suffer, being still
  • Fixed and appointed by the heavenly will,
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  • Behoves us bear with patience as we may
  • The Potter’s moulding of our helpless clay.
  • Much, Lady, hath He taken, but He leaves
  • What outweighs all for which thy spirit grieves;
  • No greater gift lies even in God’s control
  • Than the large love that fills a human soul.
  • If taking that, He left thee all the rest,
  • Would not vain anguish angush wring thy pining breast?
  • If, taking all, that dear love yet remains,
  • Hath it not balm for all thy bitter pains?
  • “Oh, Lady! there are lonely deaths that make
  • The heart that thinks upon them burn and ache;
  • And such I witnessed on the purple shore
  • Where scorched Vesuvius rears his summit hoar,
  • And Joan’s gaunt palace, with its skull‐like eyes,
  • And barbarous and cruel memories,
  • For ever sees the blue wave lap its feet,
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  • And the white glancing of the fishers’ fleet.
  • The death of the FORSAKEN! lone he lies,
  • His sultry noon, fretted by slow black flies,
  • That settle on pale cheek and quivering brow
  • With a soft torment. The increasing glow
  • Brings the full shock of day; the hot air grows
  • Impure alike from action and repose;
  • Bruised fruit, and faded flowers, and dung and dust,
  • The rich man’s stew‐pan, and the beggar’s crust,
  • Poison the faint lips opening hot and dry,
  • Loathing the plague they breathe with gasping sigh,
  • The thick oppression of its stifling heat,
  • The busy murmur of the swarming street,
  • The roll of chariots and the rush of feet;
  • With the tormenting music’s nasal twang
  • Distorting melodies his loved ones sang!
  • page: 130
  • “Then comes a change—not silence, but less sound,
  • Less echo of hard footsteps on the ground,
  • Less rolling thunder of vociferous words,
  • As though the clang struck out in crashing chords
  • Fell into single notes, that promise rest
  • To the wild fever of the labouring breast.
  • “Last cometh on the night—the hot, bad night,
  • With less of all—of heat, of dust, of light;
  • And leaves him watching, with a helpless stare,—
  • The theme of no one’s hope and no one’s care!
  • The cresset lamp, that stands so grim and tall,
  • Widens and wavers on the upper wall;
  • And calming down from day’s perpetual storm
  • His thoughts’ dark chaos takes some certain form,
  • And he begins to pine for joys long lost,
  • Or hopes unrealized;—till bruised and tost
  • He sends his soul vain journeys through the gloom
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  • For radiant eyes that should have wept his doom.
  • Then clasps his hands in prayer, and for a time,
  • Gives aspirations unto things sublime:
  • But sinking to some speck of sorrow found,
  • Some point which, like a little festering wound,
  • Holds all his share of pain,—he gazes round,
  • Seeking some vanished form, some hand whose touch
  • Would almost cure him; and he yearns so much,
  • That passionate painful sobs his breathing choke,
  • And the thin bubble of his dream hath broke!
  • “So, still again; and all alone again;
  • Not even a vision present with his pain.
  • The hot real round him; the forsaken bed;
  • The tumbled pillow, and the restless head.
  • The drink so near his couch, and yet too far
  • For feeble hands to reach; the cold fine star
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  • That glitters through the unblinded window‐pane,
  • And with slow gliding leaves it blank again;
  • Till morning flushing through the world once more,
  • Brings the dull likeness of the day before,—
  • The first vague freshness of new wings unfurled,
  • As though Hope lighted, somewhere, in the world;
  • The heat of noon; the fading down of light;
  • The glimmering evening, and the restless night.
  • And then again the morning; and the noon;
  • The evening and the morning;—till a boon
  • Of double weakness sinks him, and he knows
  • One or two other days shall end his woes:
  • One or two mournful evenings, glimmering grey,
  • One or two hopeless risings of new day.
  • One or two noons too weak to brush off flies,
  • One or two nights of flickering feeble sighs,
  • One or two shivering breaks of helpless tears,
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  • One or two yearnings for forgotten years,—
  • And then the end of all, then the great change,
  • When the freed soul, let loose at length to range,
  • Leaves the imprisoning and imprisoned clay,
  • And soars far out of reach of sorrow and decay!”
  • Then Claud, who watched the faint and pitying flush
  • Tint her transparent cheek; with sudden gush
  • Of manly ardour, spoke of soldier deaths;
  • Of scattered slain who lay on cold bleak heaths:
  • Of prisoners pining for their native land
  • After the battle’s vain and desperate stand;
  • Brave hearts in dungeons,—rusting like their swords;
  • And wounded men,—midst whom the rifling hordes
  • Of spoil‐desiring searchers crept and smote,—
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  • Who vainly heard the rallying bugle’s note,
  • Or the quick march of their companions pass;
  • Sunk, dumb and dying, on the trampled grass.
  • Then also, the meek anxious Prior told
  • Of war’s worst horrors,—when in freezing cold,
  • Or in the torrid heat, men lay and groaned,
  • With none to hear or heed them when they moaned;
  • Or, with half‐help,—borne in a comrade’s arms
  • To where, all huddled up in feverish swarms,
  • The dying numbers mocked the scanty skill
  • Of wearied surgeons,—crowding, crowding still,
  • With different small degrees of lingering breath,
  • Asking for instant aid, or choked in death.
  • Order, and cleanliness, and thought, and care,
  • The hush of quiet, or the sound of prayer,
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  • These things were not:—nor, from the exhausted store,
  • Medicines and balms, to help the troubling sore;
  • Nor soft cool lint, like dew on parched‐up ground,
  • Clothing the weary, burning, festering wound;
  • Nor delicate linen; nor fresh cooling drinks
  • To woo the fever‐cracking lip which shrinks
  • Even from such solace; nor the presence blest
  • Of holy women watching broken rest,
  • And gliding past them through the wakeful night,
  • Like her whose Shadow made the soldier’s light.*
  • And as the three discoursed of things like these,
  • Sweet Gertrude felt her mind grow ill at ease.
  • The words of Claud,—that God took what was given
  • To teach their hearts to turn from earth to heaven;
  • The Prior’s words, of tender mild appeal,
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  • Teaching her how for others’ woes to feel;
  • Weighed on her heart; till all the past life seemed
  • Thankless and thoughtless: and the lady dreamed
  • Of succour to the helpless, and of deeds
  • Pious and merciful, whose beauty breeds
  • Good deeds in others, copying what is done,
  • And ending all by earnest thought begun.
  • Nor idly dreamed. Where once the shifting throng
  • Of merry playmates met, with dance and song,—
  • Long rows of simple beds the place proclaim
  • A Hospital, in all things but the name.
  • In that same castle where the lavish feast
  • Lay spread, that fatal night, for many a guest,
  • The sickly poor are fed! Beneath that porch
  • Where Claud shed tears that seemed the lids to scorch,
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  • Seeing her broken beauty carried by
  • Like a crushed flower that now has but to die,
  • The self‐same Claud now stands and helps to guide
  • Some ragged wretch to rest and warmth inside.
  • But most to those, the hopeless ones, on whom
  • Early or late her own sad spoken doom,
  • Hath been pronounced; the Incurables; she spends
  • Her lavish pity, and their couch attends.
  • Her home is made their home; her wealth their dole;
  • Her busy courtyard hears no more the roll
  • Of gilded vehicles, or pawing steeds,
  • But feeble steps of those whose bitter needs
  • Are their sole passport. Through that gateway press
  • All varying forms of sickness and distress,
  • page: 138
  • And many a poor worn face that hath not smiled
  • For years,—and many a feebled crippled child,—
  • Blesses the tall white portal where they stand,
  • And the dear Lady of the liberal hand.
  • Not in a day such happy change was brought;
  • Not in a day the works of mercy wrought:
  • But in God’s gradual time. As Winter’s chain
  • Melts from the earth and leaves it green again:
  • As the fresh bud a crimsoning beauty shows
  • From the black briars of a last year’s rose:
  • So the full season of her love matures,
  • And her one illness breeds a thousand cures.
  • Her soft eyes looking into other eyes,
  • Bleared, and defaced to blinding cavities,
  • Weary not in their task; nor turn away
  • With a sick loathing from their glimmering ray.
  • Her small white comforting hand,—no longer hid
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  • In pearl‐embroidered gauntlet,—lifts the lid
  • Outworn with labour in the bitter fields,
  • And with a tender skill some healing yields;
  • Bathes the swoln redness,—shades unwelcome light;—
  • And into morning turns their threatening night.
  • And Claud, her eager Claud, with fervent heart,
  • Earnest in all things, nobly does his part;
  • His high intelligence hath mastered much
  • That baffled science: with a surgeon’s touch
  • He treats,—himself,—the hurts from many a wound,
  • And, by deep study, novel cures hath found.
  • But good and frank and simple he remains,
  • Though a King’s notice lauds successful pains;
  • And, echoing through his grateful country, fame
  • Sends to far nations noble Garaye’s name.*
  • page: 140
  • Oh! loved and reverenced long that name shall be,
  • Though, crumbled on the soil of Brittany,
  • No stone, at last, of that pale Ruin shows
  • Where stood the gateway of his joys and woes.
  • For, in the Breton town, the good deeds done
  • Yield a fresh harvest still, from sire to son:
  • Still thrives the noble Hospital that gave
  • Shelter to those whom none from pain could save;
  • Still to the schools the ancient chiming clock
  • Calls the poor yeanlings of a simple flock:
  • Still the calm Refuge for the fallen and lost
  • (Whom love a blight and not a blessing crost,)
  • Sends out a voice to woo the grieving breast,—
  • Come unto me, ye weary, and find rest!
  • And still the gentle nurses,—vowed to give
  • Their aid to all who suffer and yet live,—
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  • Go forth in show‐white cap and sable gown,
  • Tending the sick and hungry in the town,
  • And show dim pictures on their quiet walls
  • Of those who dwelt in Garaye’s ruined halls!
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